Monday, 23 February 2015

A day with distractions, as you will see. With a temperature of 5 degrees this morning, it was just about warm enough to lay bricks, and 7 of us got going in good spirits. It quickly became apparent that the icy northerly wind was exactly in line with the cutting, exposing us to a biting wind that left our teeth chattering.

The first job of the day was to lay that strip of concrete on the 180m section. JC decided to give John O a hand - that mixer had a mind of its own, and kept turning away by itself. Yours truly and John O then shovelled in all the aggregate from two dumpy bags, counting off the shovel fulls as we went - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12 - stop! Bob W then followed with cement directly from the bag, creating a huge cloud of white swirling dust (cough).

There's something very satisfying about pouring cement, and the distance from the mixer was only 30yds or so, so the strip filled pretty quickly.

A large black cloud then appeared on the horizon, and we thought, this is the moment to retire for a cup of tea in the cabin.

10 minutes later the sun was out again, and we find JC corbelling on a strip, the number of which I will not reveal, as I was rapped across the knuckles for getting one wrong last time! Suffice it to say that he completed this one, leaving a third and last row to go on two sections. If we do that, we can tick off two more sections completed, the first since January 5th. Have we done nothing since then?

We had four brick layers on the go today, which promised much progress. Two on the front, and two on the back, which meant a delicate balancing act with the mortar supply. Who would want another load first - you have to anticipate back there by the container. Along came a load of black for Bob and JC, but - it was rejected! Too grey. Oh no! The grey was then ordered to become brown, and here we see Brian shovelling it into the 'brown' barrow, for use on the backing up.
On investigation into the deviation from the specified colour, it appears that while John O is indeed very consistent with his mixes, Fairview changed the colour of the sand, and the current load is so yellow that it takes three jam jars of black powder, instead of the usual one, to make a black mix. You learn.

As an interlude, JC decided to level out a stretch of lineside with a mini digger. This is required to store the new platform slabs, which have now been ordered. They will be delivered on 23rd March.
The MO for placing them is to hire in a road/railer with a hydraulic arm and a small trailer, and to lay as many of the slabs as we can in a whole working week as soon as we have finished brick laying. At a rough guess, we have another 12 working (Mon-)days to complete the platform wall, so slab laying will take place sometime after that.
As the temperature was dropping, rather than rising during the day, JC decided to try his hand at backing up. This is therefore a very rare picture, and those reds are certainly expertly laid. Pity no one will be able to tell....
There were two distractions today, which meant we didn't get quite as much done as we had hoped. Firstly, Tony kept stopping to stare at something:
You know what it's like, when one person starts to stare, the others want to know what he's looking at. Was it the Cheltenham Area group? The new Trust chairman with a cheque? P&O out for its first run?

No it was: (rumble)

The pride and joy of the RAF, their very own brand new Airbus A400 transport plane, just out of its box! It appears we have one, and only one, and here it is, flying circles round CRC:
The new Airbus was doing circuits and bumps on Staverton airfield, banking sharply over Cleeve hill before having another go. The trouble was, every time the damned thing flew by, there was a clatter of tools falling to the ground and work ground to a halt. Coo, look, there it goes again.

Bob too had a good day, laying two courses of blues, and setting out the next rows of blues on the newly concreted 180m stretch, and even the penultimate stretch at 190m. (which John O is passing).

Here's the end of the day shot - that little pile of bricks is a tower on the 190m and penultimate section, to allow the first row of blues to be laid here next time. OK, we are close to the end, but as explained earlier in this post, there is a lot more brick laying to go before we have finished with the wall.

Hang on, the sun is shining, why the 'end of the day' ?
Looking down the trackbed, I suddenly realised I couldn't see Hunting Butts tunnel any more, how come?
A hailstorm, that's why! Would you believe it. Before we knew it, millions of white pellets rained upon us, and all over our work.. We ran about with cloth and polythene, trying to cover up the work we had done. In minutes, the whole platform area was a sea of white.

The temperature plummeted, and it became too cold to do anything further. We even had to send back a newly made barrow of mortar, which Brian is heaving back in this picture.

Here is the same Brian, tramping back towards the cabin on the crunchy hail particles. It looks like he is just completing a major treck through the snow. And can you see Cleeve Hill? No, neither could we, it had vanished in the blizzard.

Damned - that was trap - let's try that one over there...
And yes, the mouse count has now reached 14, and rising. Thought we'd won, last week. 'Fraid not. Time to sweep out the droppings again.

See you next time !

Monday, 16 February 2015

No brick laying today, I'm afraid. It was too wet. At first we entertained the idea of a concrete laying job, but the forecast was absolutely dire, thus excluding even this simple job. Unfortunately we couldn't move the day at this short notice, so it's back to work next Monday. Broadway signal box Wednesday though :-)

What to do in the rain? Perhaps you would enjoy this picture as much as I did. If you are a regular volunteer on the railway, you'll know where it's from: (or maybe you never took any notice of it, but often sit near it)

It's a picture of a Steam Rail Motor, taken at Toddington in 1913. It's on the up line, by the sidings leading to the goods shed.
On the back is a source:
'Presented by Mrs. O.L Bradley, daughter of Jesse James'.
On the front, a list of people in the picture: Stationmaster Thomas Marsden, Unknown, Arthur Stanford, Jesse James, Alfred Ledsey.

The order is not quite clear - does it refer to the two people inside the rail motor, then the three standing below? Which one is Thomas Marsden?

Thanks to BAG member Ron Taylor (working from Hong Kong !) we have also been able to add this newspaper cutting to the archive. It gives details of his life, that he was the original stationmaster at opening in December 1904, and that on his retirement, his wife received a 'handsome handbag'. 'A handbag?' as Lady Bracknell might have enquired. What a lovely gesture.

Unfortunately the picture gives no details of the SRM itself, but.... there is a great book on these wonderful contraptions, 'Great Western Steam Rail Motors and their services', by John Lewis. You can still find it second hand via Amazon. Each of the 99 SRMs produced is listed with its own case history.  One has of course survived - No. 93. So which is the one in the picture? You can't quite make out the number, and this sort of detective work is quite fascinating. It took ages...

First, the model. It's a long 70ft one, panelled in wood. A 'Type O', one of the later and most common types.
Then, the date and colour scheme.
We know the date: 1913. Early models were painted chocolate and cream, between 1903 and 1908. Our example isn't though. Between 1908 and 1912 we had lined all over brown, then from 1912 to 1922 lined lake. The lined brown model had a GWR garter crest and 'supporters' (Bristol and London arms separate) and we can just about make out one of these. It's the all over brown colour scheme then, about right for the date.

Then the actual number. The SRMs were allocated to Cheltenham and Evesham for our line, but Evesham stopped by 1911 (the SRMs stopped running on our line in 1917) and the Cheltenham allocations didn't have a number that fits in with the little that can be identified from the grainy picture (it has a vertical stripe in it, those in Cheltenham at the time had round numbers, eg 38, 92, 96 around 1913)

Then, a discovery - Stratford on Avon also had two SRMs allocated. One ran north from there, the other south. Which number did it have in 1913? No. 94 - it fits with the grainy picture! That stripe is a 4 then.

The book even gives a timetable for the car that ran south (Car B):

7.15 Stratford - Cheltenham 8.55
9.42 Cheltenham - Honeybourne 11.03
11.11 Honeybourne - Broadway 11.22
12.03 Broadway - Honeybourne 12.18
12.36 Honeybourne - Cheltenham 01.56
02.39 Cheltenham - Evesham 04.00
04.38 Evesham - Cheltenham 06.06
06.10 Cheltenham - Honeybourne 07.16
07.39 Honeybourne - Cheltenham 08.50
09.00 Cheltenham - Stratford 10.42

207 miles in total for the day. What a long day too, two crews one might suppose.

With this timetable, we can ascertain that the picture must have been taken either at around 10.00 am , or after lunch at around 3pm on an up train from Cheltenham.

Finally, the record shows that SRM 94 was built in 1908 and converted to trailer 185 in 1929, after running nearly half a million miles, a pretty respectable distance for such a small engine.

Does anyone know any more?

Back to brick laying next Monday ! Thanks for checking in.

Monday, 9 February 2015

A fine day at last ! The temperature was above freezing, and got warmer during the day. We were back on brick laying with gay abandon! It felt as if we had been cooped up indoors for a week, and finally we were let loose.

The early part of the day was misty and grey, but definitely warming up. Bob decided to get on with laying the first course of blues on the 180m section. This is the tricky one; you have to adapt the height of the concrete foundation to the level required by dropping down from the profiles that you set up a week earlier. On this stretch Bob had to resort to laying the first blues on their sides instead of on the their backs, in order to avoid an overly thick bed of mortar underneath. Next week we will concrete this in, so that all the bricks will start from the correct height.

Here are John S and Bob just making quite sure the height from the top of the profile is exactly right. Bob built himself a little tower, which will enable him to carry on next week by laying along the string line from one tower to the next.

In this picture, we can see Bob just coming to the end of the 180m section, still on his hands and knees. Can you get brick layer's knees, like housemaid's knee?
The next along is John S backing up. We were one backer-upper short today, as Tony was dumpering at Broadway. We missed you, Tony !
Behind Bob is the remaining pile of blues, now reduced to 9 stacks, after yours truly took down one more stack of 400 blues for John S to use.
Right at the back are Peter D backing up, and JC on the front laying down a second layer of corbelling. John O is spooning some mortar over the wall for Pete, in the far distance.

Here is a close up of JC corbelling row 2 on the 140m section. He completed this row, and went on to do half of the next section as well. It's slow work, corbelling, but the result looks brilliant.. Very neat, it is. Just one straight line all the way to the horizon.

Behind John in the distance is a pile of former platform slabs, in natural stone but damaged. The news here is that we have decided to buy new concrete slabs in the end, as the old ones were too far gone to be re-used. The concrete ones will be shot blasted for a slightly rougher finish, and they should discolour quicker so that they won't look quite so new. If there is any interest in buying the old ones (there are over 100 of them) let us know. They are made of natural stone and could be useful for something.

This view, taken in the middle of the day once the sun had come out, shows how far the platform construction has advanced. The end is in sight!

The unsung heroes of our tale are the backer-uppers. Because the wall is quite thick, they have to lay far more bricks than the guys doing the pretty bit at the front. Here is John S laying his second row for the day (he already laid a double row of headers underneath in the morning) and behind him is an enormous stack of fresh bricks, which all need laying, please. More stacks sit on top of the cutting. All in blue now, as we have run out of reds.

This one shows the double row of headers John S laid today. Bob also laid a row of stretchers on the front, with John S's row of stretchers on the rear, so this bit is up two rows today. Thanks to the absence of trains, we can pile ready stocks of bricks along the running line, which is handy and saves time. Not for much longer though...

Just to allow readers to keep up with the news, here is a picture of the L/C as we found it this morning. Kerb stones all round, and nice fresh ballast in between, then rolled.
Later in the day a skip came, with instructions to throw in any waste that we had,. We had some, mostly bits of rebar that came in the rubble from the old stadium.
Let's hope the skip isn't full of old sofas, fridges and buggies by next week when we come back.

Any mice today? Yep! We caught two. Here's one 'snapped' by Bob's rat trap. (was it Anon E Mouse by any chance?). Tea and peanut butter seem to have been on the intended menu.

Our last picture shows the newly opened 180m section. Bob is pointing his earlier work (this takes quite a chunk out of the day) and behind him John O and indeed yours truly, have laid a row of concrete blocks to form a shuttering which we will fill with concrete next week. Beyond that the 190m section, the last one of full height, as the 200m section will form the downward slope.

Next Monday, still two of the gang off sick, and John O, so reliable (here at 06.40 today! - my alarm hadn't even gone off yet, and he was already there) away on family business. What will we do without him? Anyone that can come down and help make mortar, please do, we were only 5 1/2 today (Pete always works half a day).

Monday, 2 February 2015

Because of the ice cold weather, we couldn't lay any bricks today, so had just half a day preparing for the next time. Six people made it on site, with minus 2 degrees outside, even after arrival. Two of us are off sick, and are much missed. Get better soon, guys!

What now? A committee is formed.
What to do if you want to lay bricks, but can't? After some headscratching, Bob and JC decided to set out the final three profiles, for the 180m, 190m and 200m sections. That was rather satisfying....

Yes, it does take 5 men to erect a profile. Bob is about to devise a complicated arrangement involving two levels, to get a reading off the running rail. To lock in the uprights, John has just been asked to make up some mortar - yesssss !
Here is the final, 200m profile. John O went round and added the distances in felt tip. It does really help too, as we need to know when we give directions to bring stuff down to the so-and-so section. What a long way it used to be to push those clapped out barrows. Now it's just round the corner!
To celebrate the raising of the last profile, John O has added some amusing bits - click on the picture to zoom in.
Now to finish laying those bricks, it'll still take us a couple of months.

What next then?

Move some bricks !

There's no room behind the wall, some idiot's been driving a dumper up and down here and it's all deeply rutted. Frozen, too.

Dig it out then!


We decided to attack the last pallet-and-a-bit of blues that is located behind the half way point. John S, Brian and yours truly manhandled 500 blues down the slope and stacked them on the platform edge, ready for an easy load on to the Pway trolley, that we had also dragged out of the shed and put in position.

While we did this, it struck us how strangely quiet it was. Turns out Tony, Bob and JC had skulked off to have an early brew, and it was only 10 o'clock! Leaving us to to the sweaty bit.
Having stacked all the bricks and tidied up the site, we went up for our cuppa in turn, and when we came out again, there they were, pushing the trolley up.
This felt like cheating a bit, but hey, a brick moved is a brick less for the future. We have now disposed completely of the second group of pallets at the half way point, leaving only 10 more stacks of blues near the 170m mark. That's 4000 bricks to go.

After this easy push of the trolley up the line, enthusiasm for further brick shifting waned somewhat.

We decided on an early lunch, and a discussion on the first cars we ever had. Grinding in the valve seats, and rust, rust, rust. Such nostalgia, we never had it so good.

Then to reset the mousetraps. Score today - one. I think we are winning :-)

A final look at the level crossing, where the CRC contractors were in action.
Our piles of infill and broken concrete have been taken away, but not yet our pile of clay, nor the pea gravel bags (a worry about damaging the grass with the digger tracks here). Those huge lumps of concrete have gone too.
The contractors are rebuilding the L/C approaches, with new edges and fine stone. Very good it looks too.

Next week, warmer weather. We hope.